One of my favorite movies of the past twenty years is a fairly surprising pick. I don’t know that it’s even considered ‘one of the greats’ but I love the style, I love the message, and I love the story. Pleasantville was an interesting idea that blossomed into a fantastic movie. How would “Leave It To Beaver” sensibilities appeal to a modern generation? To find out, two late-90s teenagers (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) are sucked into their television via a mysterious remote control presented to them by a television repairmen played by Don Knotts. Once in their television they find themselves citizens of Pleasantville, an old 1950s television show. They even find themselves in black and white, rather than the rich Technicolor of their lives and it terrifies them.
The genius of the story is the turns it takes, though. I’d think in many movies you’d find these two modern kids with their fast-paced, technology-obsessed lifestyles in some sort of farcical comedy where the black and white world they are stuck in starts to rub off on them and they realize how important things like family are as opposed to all the distractions they let rule their life back home. That’s definitely in there, but I would almost call it the B plot. The real story, in my mind, is how they start to rub off on the town.
I don’t think I’m spoiling anything on a 14 year old movie, but if you do not want to know where this movie is going, I’d avoid the rest of this. The interesting twist of this movie is it’s not about what these two can learn from their new Pleasantville world, but what the world and the teens can learn from each other.
Slowly the two worlds start meeting in the middle, neither compromising their core beliefs, and as they do that it finally happens: The hum drum black and white world slowly begins to come to life in rich color.
What starts off as a simple pink rose blossom spotted by Paul Walker’s sheltered high school jock character soon becomes entire meadows, buildings, and even people becoming colorized versions of their former selves. The town is evolving, becoming part of a newer, more modernized age where there is an entire world beyond their city limits. At a certain point in the movie one of the citizens of Pleasantville asks of Maguire’s character “What’s outside of Pleasantville?” The answer is everything. The world, a place that didn’t exist until they opened their minds to it, awaits them beyond the borders of their town, their home.
In a lot of ways it’s what happens as you grow older – you open your mind to what’s outside of the boundaries you’re accustomed to and you begin to see the world. And like Witherspoon and Maguire’s characters the more you see, the more you realize what’s really important.